A Unified Theory of the Daniel Craig Bond Films

Due to other commitments, my ongoing “Facts of Death” series, in which I laboriously examine the four existing James Bond films that feature Daniel Craig as the deadly spy, is on hold for the foreseeable future. However, seeing as production on Bond 25 (its official title is yet to be determined) is underway with a planned release in April 2020, I wanted to share with you my reading of the overarching trajectory of the Daniel Craig era to date.

For all of its fluctuations in tone and aesthetics, the Daniel Craig films have a fairly consistent sense of its protagonist’s psychological crises and construct a relatively consistent dramatic and thematic arc around it. The fundamental concern at the heart of the Daniel Craig Bond films is the notion of family, or, rather, the lack of it. In these films, “James Bond” is not a stable identity but a kind of constructed persona adopted by a man in a state of psychological and emotional turmoil, and the films dramatize its protagonist’s attempts to reconcile himself to himself.

In Casino Royale, we meet James Bond, one of the many “maladjusted young men” with a death wish swept up into the secret service to give his life on behalf of his country. An orphan with great ambivalence about authority and mistrust of personal relationship, Bond relies on MI6 as a surrogate family. Judi Dench’s M serves as the pivotal mother figure that he both rebels against and whom he seeks to impress. In the course of Casino Royale, Bond meets Vesper Lynd and contemplates abandoning his surrogate family to establish a life with her, and then recoils when that possibility is taken from him.

Quantum of Solace deals with the aftershocks of that loss, and over the course of that adventure, Bond meets his double, Camille. She, too, has lost her family. Together, they wander a family-less wilderness of grief and violence, and neither is able to wholly reconcile themselves to it or to each other. At the climax of Quantum of Solace, they find that the pain is too great to allow them to build a connection (family) with one another, and so Bond reintegrates himself with his surrogate MI6 family and once again submits to his “mother,” M.

Skyfall finds Bond questioning his submission to that surrogate family as, following a perceived betrayal at the hands of his “mother,” he becomes entangled in a battle with one of M’s previous surrogate sons. The course of the battle forces him to revisit the formative trauma of his youth, the death of his parents, which bleeds over into the battle of the present. He defeats his “sibling” and proves himself to be the “true” son, but the battle still costs him his mother.

Not unlike how Quantum of Solace traced the shockwaves of trauma from Bond’s loss of Vesper, Spectre follows where Skyfall left off, depicting Bond as grappling with the loss of M and the subsequent corruption of the secret service in her absence. Bond pursues her last wish as he hunts down the mysterious organization that orchestrated her demise. That quest for answers brings Bond into contact with another person in need of a family (“orphan” Madeleine Swann falls in love with Bond in part because he is a representation of her father) and brings him face to face with his archnemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Here, Blofeld is quite literally made into a sibling for Bond, a kind of onetime brother for the young, traumatized Bond, who, perceiving Bond as a rival, effectively orphaned himself and attempted to create himself anew. Having reconstructed his own origin story, this Blofeld overtly relishes the opportunity to rob Bond of any possibility of establishing a new family with Madeleine. At the end of Spectre, Bond triumphs over Blofeld by abandoning the role of state-sponsored assassin, leaving his surrogate MI6 family to build a new life with Madeleine.

Where Bond 25 proceeds from here, who knows? What little we know about Bond 25 suggests that his tranquil retirement with Madeleine will be short-lived. But, given the trajectory so far, I have a suggestion: if Bond 25 is to continue this arc, might it not make sense to see Bond become a parent? This has some level of precedent in the source material; Bond fathered a child in Fleming’s You Only Live Twice, although Bond was unaware that his child existed.

The Facts of Death: Quantum of Solace, Part IV

With the aid of M and Tanner, Bond learns that Dominic Greene is moving to Bregenz, Austria. The narrative mechanics by which M determines that the CIA have been working with Greene make for one of the better connect-the-dots moments in the Craig films, and it also features the film’s niftiest graphical interface, a large glass display-screen that doubles as a wall of M’s office.

The CIA has significantly more knowledge of Quantum than their British counterparts–Felix Leiter, who makes his first appearance in this film in this scene, will later note that they “know who Greene is” and express his reservations about cooperating with him–but the CIA also knows less than they think they do; they’re being duped by Greene, having been purposefully misled into believing that they might be able to get oil rights out of the Bolivian revolution Quantum is manufacturing.

The Americans come off looking very predatory in Quantum of Solace, with Felix Leiter serving as the the “Not All Americans” ally who lends Bond a hand later in the picture, but even Leiter’s turn only happens reluctantly, after Bond twists his arm. The film laces more than a few barbs at the USA’s foreign policy throughout the picture, but this scene fixates on it. Greene’s remark–“You don’t need another Marxist giving resources to the people, do you?”–is perhaps the most brazenly political moment in the entire Bond franchise.

Wright’s Leiter remains relegated to a largely passive role throughout Quantum of Solace. He sulks his way through the film, following the lead of his superior, the very greasy Gregory Beam (played with wonderful hamminess by David Harbour). In this scene, Beam tests Leiter by pushing him to identify Bond to Greene; Leiter tries to avoid it, only for Beam to call him out in front of Greene. Beam defends this uneasy partnership with Greene on the grounds of realpolitik–“You’re right, we should just deal with nice people,” he sneers to Leiter when Leiter expresses his reservations–and then bullies Leiter into submission by hinting that the success of Leiter’s career depends on his cooperation.

The Craig era continually underlines the notion that spies–and even their masters, like M–are just employees who are subservient to a larger bureaucracy that isn’t particularly concerned with their best interest and will gladly discard them whenever they become too inconvenient. There’s no longer an assumption that Britain and America are necessarily the “good guys” on the international stage.

The architecture of the Bregenz Opera House blends neatly into Dennis Gassner’s more stark, sleek approach to production design, and its watery stage makes for one of the most richly atmospheric locations in the Craig era. In the early drafts of Quantum of Solace, the opera house was to be the locale for the film’s climax, but rewrites shifted this setpiece to the film’s midsection. The notion of a criminal organization using an opera performance for their business meeting is blatantly absurd due to its transparent impracticality–it’s amazing that the crowd doesn’t shush all the members of Quantum who are talking about water rights and piping–it’s also the kind of brilliantly surreal conceit that Bond movies thrive on, transforming something as dull as an executive board room meeting into vibrant spectacle.

Bond isn’t dressed for the occasion, so he steals a dinner jacket from the opera’s cast and crew lockers (naturally, it is conveniently tailored to his physique). The theft of his black tie ensemble unfolds in a confusing string of cuts that marks the one “off” editing beat in an otherwise well-constructed montage depicting the build-up to a gala performance of Puccini’s Tosca.

David Arnold’s eerie cue for this sequence, arguably the highlight of the score, pays homage to John Barry’s “Space March” from You Only Live Twice, reworking Arnold’s sinister motif for the Quantum organization into an electronic-accented march that builds into the “Te Deum” from Puccini’s opera.

Bond identifies a Quantum member by noticing that only a few members of the crowd receive specialty gift bags. The bags contain ear pieces and a “Q” pin. The pin seems a bit too cutesy and seemingly conflicts with later dialogue from Greene that indicates that none of the Quantum members are supposed to actually see one another face-to-face.

As Greene and his entourage take their positions in his private box, Elvis becomes the focus for an odd moment–he gives another of Greene’s henchmen a kind of imbecilic, friendly look, only to be met with a dead stare. It’s yet another of the film’s many curious “gags” related to this character, and one occurs just a few minutes earlier, during the CIA meeting with Greene, when Elvis tries to start up conversation with Leiter and is completely ignored. The nature of Elvis’ relationship with Greene is never addressed directly, but is certainly affectionate (when leaving the box later, Greene will escort Elvis out of the room with his hand on Elvis’ lower back). Certainly, Greene has an unusual tolerance for his bodyguard’s incompetence. Taken with Greene’s desperately performative displays of heterosexuality when it comes to Camille, it is all too easy to read Green and Elvis’ relationship as coding Greene as being homosexual (or perhaps bisexual, given Greene’s desperately performative declarations of heterosexuality throughout the film). That said, both Amalric and Taubman (who plays Elvis) concocted their own backstory for the characters: Elvis is Greene’s cousin, and he had previously been destitute before Greene rescued him by bringing him into the Quantum organization.

The Bond production team originally hoped to utilize the Bregenz production of Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera as the setting for this sequence. The set for Un Ballo in Maschera featured a giant skeleton flipping through the pages of a book, an image very suited to a series as dominated by death-imagery as the Bond series is, but they were quickly informed that this would not be possible, and so the Bond team agreed to utilize Tosca instead.

The extravagant floating set for the Bregenz production of Tosca centers around a giant eye. Bond perches at the top of this ever-watchful eye as he observes the crowd, identifying himself (and the profession he embodies) with it. Quantum’s business meeting unfolds as of Tosca‘s first act reaches its climax, the “Te Deum.” During this spectacular moment, Tosca‘s villain, Scarpia, declares his love for the diva Tosca and his plans to coerce her into becoming his lover. The bold fanfare that accompanies Bond and Greene’s face-to-face encounter in the opera lobby marks the musical conclusion of the act. The subsequent montage of scenes from Tosca that are interspersed with Bond’s firefight with the Quantum assassins breaks with the opera’s chronology and mingles different moments from the opera, but will most directly fixate on Tosca’s murder of Scarpia at the end of Act II, foreshadowing Camille’s struggle with the predatory General Medrano during the climax of Quantum of Solace.

If you listen carefully, you can hear that this is the first time the organization refers to themselves as “Quantum”; this only happens one more time, towards the end of the film, when Greene mentions the name to Bond. The organization’s name was apparently chosen very late into production; scribe Paul Haggis stated that he was unaware of the name or the reasons for its selection.

Bond decides to interrupt the meeting, hoping to force Quantum out of the anonymity of the crowd, and does so with dialogue that is more blandly functional than clever (“Can I offer an opinion? I really think you people should find a better place to meet”). To identify the members of Quantum, he uses a nifty phone app that captures and reconstructs their faces from blurry photographs by assembling various angles into a composite face.

Mr. White has come to the Quantum meeting, too, but he’s sharper than the rest of his organization, and, accordingly, he gets the best line of the scene. Noting the departures of his colleagues, he turns to his companion: “Well, Tosca isn’t for everyone.” This turns out to be Mr. White’s last scene in the film, leaving a loose end which Spectre later picks up on. The original ending of Quantum of Solace actually featured Bond killing Mr. White, but the Bond producers deemed it to be too much of a cliffhanger and was ultimately left on the cutting room floor.

The impressionistic montage that depicts Bond’s tangle with Greene’s henchmen is self-consciously arty in way the series has rarely been, eschewing the thrills of well-documented action choreography for the thrills of montage. It resolves itself in one of the film’s more self-referential moments; Bond cornering one of the henchmen on the opera house’s rooftop recreates a similar moment from The Spy Who Loved Me. Unlike the baddie in Spy, this henchman does not cooperate with Bond, and Bond promptly drops him off the roof without a word.

The henchman actually survives, landing on the hood of Greene’s car. In keeping with this film’s penchant for overcomplicated plotting, the henchman isn’t one of Greene’s, but is actually the bodyguard of Guy Haines, a powerful advisor of the Prime Minister. When M learns, via Tanner, that the henchman was found shot, she naturally blames Bond (which isn’t entirely inappropriate, given that Bond did drop him off a roof and presumably intended for him to meet his demise).

M, recoiling from the news that the Quantum organization may have significant influence on the British government, tries to pull Bond back to Britain to debrief him. Bond refuses to let the trail go cold, and, when M attempts to restrict his movements, he effectively goes “rogue,” a choice that Craig’s Bond makes quite regularly throughout these films.

Bond learns that MI6 has shut him down when his company credit card is declined at the airport. Bond, ever courteous to service representatives, charmingly asks the attendant to tell anyone who calls about him that he’s headed to Cairo. We’ll very quickly find out he has other plans.

The Facts of Death: Quantum of Solace, Part III

David Arnold’s score gives way to reverberating guitar riffs as Quantum of Solace shifts its locale from Siena to rainy London. Director Marc Forster worked closely with Arnold on Quantum of Solace, providing Arnold with samples of sounds and musical styles that he wanted Arnold to embed into the film’s score. The result of their collaboration is, far and away, Arnold’s strongest work on the Bond films. Arnold’s affection for senseless bombast is in evidence now and again during the film’s setpieces, but, for the most part, this is a texturally varied score that applies its effects with precision.

Bond and M’s meeting in Mitchell’s apartment unfolds with Quantum of Solace‘s typical impatience with any exchanges that could be considered expository, but there are some nice touches here as M expresses her horror and exasperation in being caught up in a conspiracy about which she knows practically nothing. Throughout the Craig era, governments and their institutions consistently prove to be too myopic to identify the true threats, allowing the villains (who are, Skyfall‘s Silva aside, sinister venture capitalists out to manipulate world events to their own gain) to move about in plain sight and infiltrate the corridors of power. The throwaway joke here about M not knowing her traitorous bodyguard all that well–she notes that she gifted Mitchell an ashtray, and Bond deadpans his reply: “I don’t think he smoked”–is a clever way of reinforcing M’s own tendency towards this short-sightedness.

MI6 headquarters has moved locations since Casino Royale and is now housed in Frobisher Crescent. No reason is ever given for this transition, and we might reconcile the films together by speculating that the Vauxhall Cross offices from Casino Royale were being remodeled (after all, they look a bit different when Skyfall rolls around). Really, though, this is simply inconsistency extending from a general indifference toward aesthetic continuity. Dennis Gassner’s design for the MI6 offices is sleek and highly technological, all sterile glass and steel, dispensing with any hint of traditional British elegance and placing MI6 on the cutting edge of technological innovation.

Quantum of Solace employs technology much better than any of the other Craig films, abandoning a sense of verisimilitude for advanced computer systems with complex interfaces that may be somewhat nonsensical but have a beauty in their design (they were conceived by MK12, the same group that designed the film’s title sequence). The touchscreen table used in the briefing scene here nicely embeds a great deal of visual information into an otherwise fairly dry exchange.

Tanner’s strange non-sequitur that occurs just before they enter the briefing room (“Not in the mood”) might suggest that some connective tissue was cut out of the scene. If so, it’s not hard to believe. Quantum of Solace‘s production was notoriously frantic, and anecdotes shared by those present during parts of Quantum of Solace‘s scattershot shoot have indicated that a substantial amount of footage was left on the cutting room floor. Still, once you’ve seen the film enough times to keep up with the information being presented in this briefing scene, the scene depicts a clever–if sensationalized–riff on actual investigative techniques, allowing MI6 to trace money back to another Quantum agent.

The trail leads to Port-au-Prince, and here are the broad strokes of what unfolds in this, the film’s most preposterously overcomplicated section: Bond kills a Quantum assassin and takes over his identity, and then stumbles into a meeting with Camille, who turns out to have been the original assassin’s target, having been lured into a trap after trying to investigate the actions of Dominic Greene, with whom she’s been having a relationship, and who wanted her dead after he discovered her betrayal. After Bond and Camille’s meeting turns sour, Bond discovers that the assassin he killed had a partner, takes him out, and then pulls some smartphone gymnastics to get a line on Dominic Greene after following Camille to him. The film furthermore introduces us to secondary villain General Medrano, a focal point in Greene’s plans to start a coup in Bolivia in order to get rights to some seemingly empty land in the desert, and who also was responsible for the death of Camille’s entire family. Some of this connects in this whirlwind of exposition, much of it doesn’t. Structural clarity is not this film’s gift.

It all begins well enough, though; Bond’s fight with Slate in the Hotel Desalines might very well be the film’s highlight. The frantic editing actually works here, maintaining enough clarity to maintain tension. In fact, it’s better composed than any of the hand-to-hand combat in the Greengrass Bourne films to which it owes a significant stylistic debt. The sound design accentuates the frantic choreography, ensuring that every inelegant blow registers with wince-inducing force.

Bond impatiently waiting for Slate to pass on greatly exceeds any of Casino Royale‘s numerous attempts to demonstrate just how dehumanizing Bond’s duties can be. There isn’t another death scene in the entire Bond series that has the same existential sting. Quantum of Solace sadly does not showcase Craig’s performance with the same attentiveness that Casino Royale did (whatever else you could say about Campbell’s direction on the film, he knew when to hold on Craig’s face), but this is one moment where the film indulges Craig’s gift for internalized acting.

The ensuing conversation with the hotel desk clerk is not particularly notable, but it does serve as a nice showcase for how odd Quantum of Solace‘s impatient editing can be. This simple exchange leaps from shot to shot with no discernible purpose.

I’m very fond of Olga Kurylenko’s Camille, even though she is, on occasion, ill-served by the film. Camille has a narrative and psychology that exists outside of Bond’s own storyline, which can’t quite be said of Casino Royale‘s Vesper Lynd. Starting with Camille’s impatient “Get in” and Bond’s somewhat befuddled response, Bond and Camille have a very blunt, direct relationship. This first meeting is far too disorienting for its own good–the plotting is just too intricate here to let the characters become the focal point of the scene–but there’s still something appealing about having their first meeting end with Camille attempting to put a bullet in Bond’s head.

When Camille pulls some fast car maneuvers to obstruct her pursuer’s path, a truck ends up spilling its load of coffins all over the street, a casual, implementation of the death imagery that has naturally recurred throughout the franchise. When Bond meets up with the same henchman a few moments later, he flips the henchman’s bike, a moment executed with great visual flair. Alas, Bond’s verbal comeback (“You were supposed to shoot her!” / “Well, I missed!”) isn’t exactly a model of wit, though this script will have far clunkier attempts at humor.

Throughout Quantum of Solace, M continually scolds Bond for killing potential sources of information, picking up on her “big picture” rant from Casino Royale, but it’s unclear whether or not we’re actually meant to agree with her. Yes, the film will hint that Bond has become something of a loose canon, but it also exonerates his actions by putting him in situations where it’s either his life or his opponent’s.

Dominic Greene and Camille meeting by the docks ranks among the worst-written scenes in any Bond movie. At the very least, it’s the most bizarrely elliptical; reading the scene in transcript form is even more baffling than watching it play out on-screen.

Unlike Mr. White (there’s a weird, unremarked upon feature of the Quantum organization having many members with color-based surnames: White, Greene, Slate), Greene never seems particularly threatening–he’s always shielding himself behind the organization he represents–though he clearly has a sadist’s temperament and loves to pontificate. Amalric plays him as a man always caught up in his own mental calculations, as though he’s sizing everyone up around him to see where he stands. (One nice little touch is that when Camille first bursts in to confront him, Greene has been goofing off, toying with paper and stamps like a child.)

Greene’s primary henchman, Elvis, seemingly functions as little more than an odd running gag. Every moment that showcases him has been designed to emphasize just how ineffectual he is, climaxing with his cartoonish demise during the film’s climactic battle. I’m not certain any of these moments properly land–they always feel like strangely edited non-sequiturs–but it’s very consistent, starting with his ineffectual scolding of the guard.

General Medrano arrives on the scene, and he has a level of menace Greene and Elvis don’t. That said, he’s also much less interesting than the Quantum cabal, a more flatly literal kind of villain distinguished only by his predatory instincts. He’s one of the more repulsive characters in the franchise, but all he has to define him is his own appetite for abuse, which the film pushes to exploitative extremes.

Quantum of Solace has a much stronger political consciousness than the other Craig Bond pictures, and it’s in evidence as Medrano and Greene discuss the economics of these struggling South American countries. Quantum of Solace depicts the inhabitants of these countries as the victims of predatory political and economic powers, and we’ll come to find that Bond’s own government will prove to be complicit in Quantum’s planned destabilization of Bolivia. Throughout the film, Forster takes a break from story-driven sequences to simply showcase the victims of these sinister machinations; one of these stretches occurs immediately after the boat chase, as Bond drives to the airport. These people are anonymous, part of the background, but simply showing the squalor of their lives is something of a radical moment for a Bond picture.

Little good can be said about the boat chase. Many Bond action sequences have been lackluster, but no others are this staggeringly ineffectual. The suspenseful build-up to the chase itself works pretty well (and features a very fine motorcycle stunt, to boot), but once Bond grabs Camille off of Medrano’s boat, the chase achieves the strange distinction of being utterly lethargic and overly frantic at the same time as boats roar around a space with little sense of geography. The inscrutably edited climactic beat, involving the use of anchor to destabilize the last remaining boat pursuing Bond and Camille, squanders what otherwise might be a decent concluding stunt.

After rescuing Camille, who inadvertently confirm Bond’s suspicion during the boat chase that Greene is the next link in the chain, Bond callously abandons the now-unconscious Camille with an attempt at a throwaway Connery-esque one-liner (“She’s seasick”). As always, Craig’s Bond cares more passionately about the thrill of the hunt than he does anything else.

The Facts of Death: Quantum of Solace, Part II

Quantum of Solace‘s title sequence opens on the Palio di Siena. The Palio, a quick and brutal horse race with roots all the way back in the sixteenth century, takes place twice a year (once in July and once in August). The footage of the Palio used in Quantum of Solace was captured months before the rest of shooting began, when the film was still in the midst of development. Matching footage was shot roughly half a year later.

The Palio’s utilization as a setting for a big Bond setpiece is a welcome nod to the travelogue elements of the original Bond novels and films. While the brisk pacing leaves little room to enjoy the ambiance of the race, touches such as this nevertheless grants Quantum of Solace a sense of place that escapes the other Craig Bond films.

Bond drops Mr. White into a chair. MI6 staff subsequently stabilize Mr. White’s condition while preparing him for interrogation. Moments later, M will threaten Mr. White with torture, indicating that the room’s equipment is meant for that purpose. M never gets an opportunity to deliver on her threat.

As we saw in Casino Royale, Dench’s M seems to enjoy travelling around the world to deal personally with critical situations. This character trait almost certainly has more to do with the filmmakers wanting to put M and Bond in the same room than any narrative justification. Certainly, such travel seems risky for such an important government official. M will nearly die during the course of her time with Mr. White. (Early versions of the story for Quantum of Solace actually included M’s death partway through the film, a narrative element was removed and then later used in Skyfall.) Given Mr. White’s importance as an asset, though, it’s not especially difficult to imagine why M would choose to personally attend his interrogation.

When Bond and M meet, they launch into a flurry of exposition that bridges the events of Casino Royale and establishes the trajectory of Quantum of Solace. Quantum of Solace makes no real attempt to explain the events of Casino Royale, casually referencing its characters with the expectation that the audience is already fully aware of the details.

M notes that the CIA will be unhappy with MI6 now that MI6 is pursuing the investigation without their involvement. Bond is unconcerned. Bond reminds her that his deal with them was only for the now-deceased Le Chiffre: “If they wanted his soul, they should have made a deal with a priest.” Bond once again draws a comparison between himself and the priesthood.

M notes that Bond looks “like hell” and asks when he last slept. Quantum of Solace will play up the notion that Bond has been having trouble sleeping since Vesper’s death, and this dialogue is the first gesture toward that idea. Still, it’s an odd remark. Bond looked like he was in good shape at the end of Casino Royale, and it seems more likely that his haggard appearance at this moment has less to do with how well he’s sleeping and more to do with the fact that he was just minutes ago engaged in an intense car pursuit.

During the course of this briefing, M provides us with our first glimpse of Vesper’s boyfriend. Here and elsewhere throughout the film, Forster and his editors seem to work to move past exposition as quickly as possible, which, coupled with the film’s hazy sense of narrative progression, tends to make the film a little murky. As important as Vesper’s boyfriend will be for Bond’s arc in this film, he won’t be mentioned again until a good while later. Still, the narrative confusion is intentional, at least to some degree; Quantum of Solace will routinely suggest that Bond, reeling from grief, isn’t sure what he’s pursuing or why.

As always, Bond and M’s relationship hinges on issues of trust, and M voices her doubts that Bond will be able to separate his duties from his personal feelings. “It’d be a pretty cold bastard who didn’t want revenge for the death of someone he loved” is extraordinarily awkward phrasing, though this is hardly the first or last time that M’s dialogue is overripe and overstated. Her doubts prove to be well-founded, given the way Bond deceives her in this scene.

Jesper Christiansen’s Mr. White remains one of the highlights of Quantum of Solace. It’s a shame that the film does not give him a greater role, given that Mr. White is certainly a much more compelling villain than Quantum‘s “proper” villain, Dominic Greene. (It’s worth nothing that the original cut of Quantum of Solace did grant Mr. White a brief final scene just before the end credits.)

Christiansen has a lot of fun lacing White’s dialogue with arrogance and venom. Mr. White needles Bond about Vesper, telling him that his organization intended to blackmail him in the same way that they had blackmailed Vesper: “I think you would have done anything for her.” Given that the film will go on to hint that this is standard operating procedure for the Quantum organization, Mr. White’s suggestion is actually fairly plausible.

After telling M that his organization has people everywhere, Mr. White illustrates his point by directing Mitchell, M’s bodyguard, to spring into action. The ensuing scuffle is some of the most inept filmmaking in the Bond series; thanks to the editing and shot construction, the chain of events is almost entirely obfuscated. Thanks to the muddled editing, it actually appears that M has been shot, but what we’re meant to be seeing is that she’s actually been thrown out of danger. After the scuffle–during which Mr. White takes a bullet–Bond pauses to make sure M departs the room safely, but the shot is so unclear that it’s hard to tell that the person leaving the room is M and not Mitchell.

Bond pursues Mitchell down into the tunnels of Siena, a chase that is intercut with the horse race taking place above them. Forster seems fond of this sort of intercutting (the Tosca sequence in the film will similarly juxtapose Bond’s action against events occurring nearby).

The Siena chase, which moves from the underground to the rooftops and then back down again, offers some of the same propulsive physicality that distinguished Casino Royale‘s Madagascar chase, and the stuntwork is really quite good. Such a shame, though, that it rarely receives the attention or space it deserves. The editing has been done in such a percussive style that most all of the connective tissue has been removed, with characters teleporting from position to position over the course of an edit (an especially clear example occurs when Bond leaps on to the bus and then somehow gets back onto the rooftop in a flurry of a few brief shots that don’t seem to follow one another).

The Siena chase does have one feature that distinguishes from other Bond setpieces: a genuine interest in its collateral damage. While racing through the crowd, Mitchell fires at Bond, but misses him and hits an innocent bystander instead. The film does not forget this innocent victim, but actually interrupts the progression of the chase to cut back to her body and the confusion of the crowd around her. No other Bond film pays such attention to the ways in which the violence of Bond’s world intrudes on the life of everyday people.

This attention does sit somewhat awkwardly with the Moore-era gag where Mitchell disturbs an old lady attempting to transport groceries up to her apartment, who subsequently mourns the loss of her tomatoes. Such is Quantum of Solace schizophrenia: it wants to push the hard edge of Casino Royale even further, all the while contorting to still evoke classic Bond escapism.

The Siena chase climaxes with a sequence that takes Craig’s Bond’s indestructability to a new extreme. Bond and Mitchell tumble down from a belfry, crashing through a glass window into gallery in the midst of renovation. They tussle in mid-air, dangling from ropes and scaffolding, slamming into each other and their hazardous surroundings. Alas, even though the editing is more intelligible here than it is elsewhere throughout the Siena sequence, the editing still fails to render the action with sufficient clarity and showmanship.

At least the sequence ends well. Bond hangs precariously from a rope, trying to reach the Walther PPK that lies just out of reach, as Mitchell recovers his weapon and takes aim. Bond gets his weapon in the nick of time and swings himself around, firing a single, fatal shot. The film lingers on Craig’s cold gaze just long enough.

Bond heads back to the interrogation room, passing by the destruction and chaos left in the wake of his pursuit of Mitchell. A sense of futility seeps in. After all that violence, Bond has achieved nothing at all. Mr. White has vanished, leaving nothing but an overturned chair and a pool of blood.

The Facts of Death: Casino Royale, Part XIV

Thus we arrive at the closing moments of Casino Royale, in which Craig’s Bond fully embalms himself in the armor of his constructed persona, and steps out into the world to confront sinister villainy as a state-employed thug in elegant attire.

Even though the ending of Casino Royale was always intended to function as a gateway to the sequel (the initial versions of which were being written by Bond scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade as Casino Royale was filming), Casino Royale‘s ending feels less like a cliffhanger than it does the completion of the film’s arc. This is certainly how director Martin Campbell felt, who declined to return for its successor due to a feeling that a sequel would not add much to his work on Casino Royale. Still, Quantum of SolaceSkyfall, and Spectre will each, in their own way, see this finale as a kind of pause rather than a full statement. The Craig era exists in a constant push-and-pull wherein Bond’s identity is asserted and subsequently challenged.

The conversation with M consists of an embarrassing amount of exposition, most of which serves to clear up the mystery surrounding Vesper’s motivations. These motivations have been relatively obscure and clumsily dramatized, and will still remain a bit hazy after this conversation (this murkiness surrounding Vesper’s motivations, and her boyfriend, provides Quantum of Solace with its foundation). M’s comments to Bond contain much supposition along with the few facts she provides. If this conversation achieves anything dramatically, it is to refocus the film around Bond’s relationship to M, who chastises Bond for being coldhearted while also knowing that she needs him to be exactly who he is in order for him to be useful to her and the state she serves.

The conversation does not serve Craig’s Bond especially well, reducing him to a grim-faced listener. The film tosses away the iconic, nasty closing line of Fleming’s novel, suggesting that it is included more out of obligation to the source novel rather than out of clear dramatic purpose. In Fleming’s novel, it was a searing final exclamation mark in the hardboiled tradition, a blast of misogyny that extended from Bond’s wounded masculinity. Here, it is stated and then subsequently challenged, overwhelmed by M’s musings.

Vesper’s cell phone enables Bond to track down Mr. White. It’s suggested this was her intention all along. Mr. White is clearly somewhat negligent when it comes to the use of cell phone tech. Giving Vesper his personal number and retains the same phone after this affair is concluded. You’d think he would at least have the same sense as a low-class criminal and use a burner.

The finale, staged at Mr. White’s beautiful lakeside villa, concludes Bond’s character arc by showing that he has been absorbed by the character’s iconography. The sequence serves as a purpose statement for Bond: he’s the killer who brings violence wherever he goes, hunting down the criminal elements that cloak themselves in luxury and wealth.

Bond sports an atypically rakish outfit. Given that the dinner jacket was already presented mid-picture, costume designer Lindy Hemming was tasked with effectively created a Bond outfit that could out-Bond the dinner jacket, and she settled on the three-piece suit, which nods back to Connery’s attire in Goldfinger. Where Connery’s gray suit was tasteful, Craig’s is ostentatious. This pinstriped suit is not the suit of a gentleman educated in “Oxford or wherever,” to borrow Vesper’s words, but the suit of a hoodlum. The gangster-ish effect of the outfit is further magnified by Bond’s choice of weapon, which might as well be a Tommy gun.

His smug delivery of the “Bond, James Bond” line rings out both loud and hollow. This is, as Fleming once described him, the man who is only a silhouette. Death will follow in his wake. Cue, for the first time, the James Bond theme.

The Facts of Death: Quantum of Solace, Part I

Quantum of Solace derives its peculiar title from Ian Fleming’s short story of the same name. In the Fleming story (which bears no relationship to the film), it refers to the minimal amount of comfort two people need to find in one another to preserve a healthy romantic relationship. In this film, it speaks to what Bond needs to find in the wake of Vesper’s death, while also (nonsensically) alluding to the name of the villainous organization that drove her to suicide. The title was chosen very late into production; screenwriter Paul Haggis’ proposed title was Sleep of the Dead.

As noted earlier, Casino Royale was always envisioned as being the first part of a two-film arc, and while the sequel was subject to many frantic rewrites that shifted the emphasis of the sequel, the majority of Quantum‘s components can be traced back to that original story outline. Quantum of Solace was always intended to pick up shortly after Casino Royale ended off, allowing the audience to see the aftermath of Bond’s confrontation with Mr. White.

Casino Royale ends with a blast of triumphant iconography, and Quantum of Solace immediately seeks to undermine that sense of Bondian bombast. Casino Royale ended with David Arnold’s robustly orchestrated version of the Bond theme, but Quantum of Solace opens instead with ominous underscore. The studio logos lead into the full-shot introduction, a beautiful vista of an Italian lakeside mountain (the iconic gunbarrel opening, which was given an origin story of sorts in Casino Royale, is withheld for the end credits both in Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, returning to its traditional place at the beginning of the film with Spectre). The warmth that suffused Casino Royale‘s images of Italy has been drained away.

Quantum of Solace will be, in many ways, more aesthetically refined than Casino Royale was–the cinematography, the score, the production design, and costume design are generally stronger here than in Casino Royale–but the aesthetic here is fairly stark and chilly. The luxury and exoticism of the Bond series will be present, but will be pointedly juxtaposed with third-world squalor, and even when it does appear, it will rarely seem especially inviting.

As the camera sails across the water to the Italian shore, edits give us glimpses of Bond’s eye, the hood of the Aston Martin, the spin of the wheel, guns being readied. It’s a bit of atmospheric calm before the hysterical impatience of the car chase overwhelms us, and it’s one of the film’s more elegant flourishes. The car chase that follows, alas, is somewhat obnoxious, taking the frantic, dizzying editing popularized by the Greengrass Bourne films to absurd heights (both editor Rick Pearson and second unit director Dan Bradley worked on the Bourne movies before joining the Quantum team).

Bond had flirted with quick-cut editing in the 1960s, as Peter Hunt worked as an editor to develop an impressionistic action-editing style that reached its apex when he graduated to director on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Hunt’s approach to action still paid close attention to what was in the frame at any given time (indeed, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service offers an embarrassment of riches when it comes to its sumptuous use of widescreen shot composition). Quantum of Solace is much sloppier. The car chase has little sense of geography, and feels pasted together from shots that have no real business occurring in sequence (there’s even a preposterous cut to a shot that is, essentially, of nothing; we get the glimpse of a back-fifth of a car as it leaves the frame).

After the clean, carefully dramatized action of Casino Royale, this is something of a crushing disappointment. This frenetic onslaught of image and sound robs these action scenes of any opportunity for suspense; there’s little-to-no attention paid to geography, and it remains quite difficult to register exactly what choices are being made when and by which characters. In this regard, the car chase will not be the worst sequence in the film, but it’s still significantly more exhausting than exciting, and unfortunately squanders some very fine stuntwork.

Eagle-eyed viewers will note that Craig is actually not wearing the same clothes he was wearing at the end of Casino Royale. Taking over from Lindy Hemming, costume designer Louise Frogley decided to shift designers (the suits in Quantum of Solace, which, incidentally, are the most attractive and best-tailored suits of the Craig era, were provided by Tom Ford, whereas Casino Royale‘s suits were provided by Brioni), and instead of replicating the Brioni three-piece suit outright, she shifts to a two-piece suit with a similar color and pinstripe pattern.

Bond escapes and wheels his battered Aston Martin into Siena, Italy, and the film gives us the first appearance of one of the film’s recurring motifs: the title card for each locale lists the city’s name in a unique font, often using the architecture of the location to frame the text. It’s a clever idea, if not always well-implemented (the text is occasionally too stylized to read easily). Part of me wishes that the subsequent Craig films had made it a recurring feature of the era. The end of the pre-title sequence sequence will offer another stylistic flourish: a freeze-frame of Bond’s smug look as he tells Mr. White to get out of the boot of his car.

These touches are rooted in a fundamental dissonance that runs throughout Quantum of Solace, wants to cling to some semblance of playfulness in its approach to the material even as it gets particularly nasty and severe. The title cards are not, by themselves, too incongruous, but there are uglier displays of this dissonance. When Quantum of Solace‘s climax juxtaposes a buffoonish, impotent henchman getting his pants blown off by an explosion with an attempted rape, Quantum of Solace manages the dubious distinction of achieving a level of distastefulness that no prior Bond film had ever managed to achieve.

The title song for Quantum of Solace was originally going to be provided by Amy Winehouse, though she was unable to complete the track, and Jack White and Alica Keys were brought in to provide the Bond series’ first duet. The resulting tune, “Another Way to Die,” may not be the worst example of songwriting ever attached to a Bond film (“Another Way to Die” is oddly structured and lacks a good hook, but the camped-up lyrics, which hearken back to the Bond songs of the early 70s, are amusing enough), but, as performed, it’s nearly unlistenable. If White or Keys had sung the song in isolation, the track might have been passable, but whenever they sing together, the result is unpleasant. The underlying cause of this unpleasantness might be the poorly-implemented raw analog production more than the vocals themselves.

Composer David Arnold did not have a role in composing the theme, but after Quantum of Solace was concluded, he collaborated with lyricist Don Black, Bond veteran, to work thematic material from his score into a song for Shirley Bassey, “No Good About Goodbye.” “No Good About Goodbye” may just be a so-so pastiche, but it’s much better than “Another Way to Die,” if only because it’s performed by the great Shirley Bassey.

At Marc Forster’s request, MK12 designed the title sequence of Quantum of Solace, interrupting Daniel Kleinman’s run as the title designer since 1995’s GoldenEye (MK12 also designed the location title cards and the intricate computer interfaces used by characters throughout the film). The sequence, which features a shadowy Bond traversing an empty desert while haunted by shadowy women, lacks verve and imagination, though it offers at least one spectacular image: Bond, tumbling through space, falls through a zoetrope of female silhouettes, which circle around him like Saturn’s rings.

The title sequence’s final image is of Bond firing a bullet into a sand dune and scattering sand everywhere, which may or may not serve as an effective metaphor for Quantum of Solace‘s general imprecision and dubious trajectory.

The Facts of Death: Introduction

“I never left.”
~ James Bond, Quantum of Solace

Over the past few months, the rumors have been flying: after a few years of great uncertainty about the state of the Bond film series, it appears that Daniel Craig will be back as James Bond for one final adventure, capping the journey the character began in 2006’s series reset, Casino Royale.

As a devotee of the Bond film series, I intend to spend the next few months writing this series–which I have entitled “The Facts of Death,” borrowing its title from the Raymond Benson novel of the same name–by taking a very deep dive into the complexities of Daniel Craig’s four existing cinematic ventures as James Bond (Casino RoyaleQuantum of SolaceSkyfall, and Spectre). These four films are strikingly consistent, if not in aesthetics or tone or entertainment value, then in their underlying thematic ambiguities and general ambivalence about the place of this icon in the world of the 21st century. I hope to make a persuasive case that these are genuinely interesting, odd movies, even when they are at their very worst.

So to you, dear reader, I raise my vodka martini. Here’s to the blondest of Bonds!